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Church Buildings (Theft)

Volume 536: debated on Thursday 24 November 2011

5. Whether the Church Commissioners have considered English Heritage’s guidance on (a) theft of metal from church buildings and (b) replacing lead with modern materials. (82264)

The theft of metal from churches continues to be a very serious problem. About 10 churches a day suffer from theft. Insurance payouts for the theft of metal from places of worship have increased by 70%, and according to the Association of Chief Police Officers, the full cost of metal theft to the domestic economy across all sectors is upwards of £770 million.

The latest English Heritage guidance note on the theft of metals from church buildings states that

“support for the use of…non-traditional materials…would be exceptional.”

However, the guidance note on solar panel installations is relatively liberal. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is hard to reconcile the two, and does he understand why Hambleside Danelaw, an alternative roofing manufacturer in my constituency, is clear that the guidance is not in the interests of churches, their congregations or the wider good?

On the substantive issue of the theft of lead, the Church remains convinced that making cash scrap metal transactions illegal is the single move that will have the greatest impact on reducing that crime, and it is pleased to see that proposal gaining wider acceptance. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday that the answer

“lies in looking at how the scrap metal market is currently regulated.”—[Official Report, 23 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 296.]

I undertake to investigate in detail my hon. Friend’s specific point about Hambleside Danelaw, and I shall write to him.

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the greatest tragedies about the loss of metal from war memorials, whether they be on Church property or elsewhere, is that there is currently no central record kept of the people whose names are recorded on them? Will he undertake to ask the Church Commissioners to work with the Imperial War museum, and indeed the Ministry of Defence, to provide a central register of those whose names appear on war memorials?

I would hope that in the run-up to 2014 to 2018, the centenary of the first world war, churches across the country will not only work on updating, conserving and repairing war memorials but give thought, as many communities are, to updating the records of those who lost their lives in the first and second world wars. The theft of inscriptions from war memorials is a detestable offence, and a further example of the need to tackle the theft of metals as urgently as possible.